It’s hard to believe, but the best drugstore skincare products have seriously evolved over the past decade. Nowadays, you can find everything from cleansers to sunscreens and even impressive anti-aging treatments to create a skincare routine that’s not only budget-friendly but also just as effective as pricier alternatives.
Take CVS, for instance, which has been expanding its beauty selection to emphasize healthy skincare through collaborations with companies like SkinSAFE, and encouraging customers to enhance their routines with a combination of some of the market’s most talked-about ingredients. And let’s not forget Target, which recently introduced a “shop-in-shop” concept with Ulta, allowing shoppers to explore new brands.
Before you dive into the upgraded beauty aisles and feel overwhelmed by the choices, we reached out to several dermatologists to reveal their top drugstore skincare products (hint: they use more than you might think) and provide some guidance on creating an affordable routine that truly yields noticeable results. Keep reading to discover how to shop like a pro.
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Building Your Drugstore Skincare Routine
Dr. Raechele Cochran Gathers, MD, a dermatologist based in Detroit, MI, and founder of MDhairmixtress, assures us that it’s entirely possible to create an excellent skincare routine using drugstore products. “It’s crucial to understand that you don’t always need to spend a fortune to obtain safe and effective skincare products,” she explains. “Many drugstore brands feature the exact same active ingredients as their more expensive luxury counterparts.”
A pro tip: Begin with the essentials. “Every skincare regimen should incorporate a gentle cleanser, vitamin C serum, a moisturizer tailored to your skin type, sunscreen, and a topical retinoid or retinol, all of which can be found at your local drugstore,” says Dr. DiAnne Davis, a dermatologist in Dallas, TX. “Introduce one product at a time to ensure your skin tolerates it before purchasing another.”
In addition, Dr. Gathers suggests that establishing a foundation of affordable skincare will enable you to allocate funds for any must-have luxury items like serums, masks, or treatments you’d like to include — although you can definitely find those at the drugstore as well. Below, discover a list of dermatologist-recommended drugstore skincare products that truly deliver results.
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Dermatologist-Approved Drugstore Skincare Products
Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Face Sunscreen SPF 50 ($9+)
Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Mineral Sunscreen Lotion with Broad Spectrum SPF 60+ offers gentle sun protection against both skin-aging UVA and skin-burning UVB rays, helping to prevent sunburn. This 3-fluid-ounce bottle of specially formulated mineral sunscreen is made with 100% naturally sourced physical sunscreen active ingredients, including titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, to protect your skin from sun damage and sunburn.
The face and body sunscreen lotions are some of the best drugstore skincare products on the market. They use a hypoallergenic formula designed to be gentle on your skin and feature Purescreen Technology, which works to absorb, reflect, and scatter harmful sun rays. Furthermore, this sunscreen lotion is both fragrance- and oil-free, so it won’t irritate sensitive skin. Plus, it provides water-resistant protection from sun damage for up to 80 minutes.
To ensure effective sun protection for your sensitive skin, apply this Neutrogena sunscreen before sun exposure. It’s perfect for outdoor activities such as gardening, biking, hiking, boating, or enjoying a walk with the family. With this sunscreen lotion, you can confidently protect your skin while spending time outdoors.
CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion ($35+)
“There are a number of reasons this moisturizer is one of my favorites; it’s lightweight and easily absorbs into the skin all while hydrating and repairing the barrier,” says Dr. Gathers. “I find that it moisturizes my skin, without leaving it super-shiny or greasy-feeling.” Formulated with essential ceramides, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and strengthening niacinamide, she adds that it also helps with any areas of inflammation she may notice after having worn a medical mask all day.
The CeraVe AM/PM Facial Moisturizing Kit includes two essentials for your daily skincare routine: CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with Broad Spectrum SPF 30 and CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion.
The AM Facial Moisturizer, featuring Broad Spectrum SPF 30, not only moisturizes your skin throughout the day but also helps restore its protective barrier. On the other hand, the PM Facial Moisturizer, enriched with Niacinamide, keeps your skin moisturized throughout the night, working in tandem to maintain the skin’s protective barrier.
CeraVe’s MVE Technology is a unique delivery system that continually releases moisturizing ingredients for all-night hydration, ensuring your skin remains supple and well-nourished. The formulations also include Hyaluronic Acid, which helps retain your skin’s natural moisture, and Niacinamide, which assists in calming your skin.
Differin Gel Acne Treatment ($32+)
If you’ve been wanting to try a prescription-strength retinoid treatment, this over-the-counter option is a good place to start. Dr. Gathers explains that it “can be very effective for treating acne, clearing blackheads, and improving the skin texture and tone.” However, she suggests starting gradually as retinoids can be irritating and drying.
Differin is an acne treatment that clears breakouts where they start, deep within the pores, and helps prevent new acne from forming. This ultimately restores your skin’s texture and tone. Unlike other acne treatments, The Differin Gel Acne treatment works differently by normalizing skin cell turnover and effectively targeting two primary causes of acne: clogged pores and inflammation.
Adapalene, the active ingredient in Differin, was designed for superior tolerability compared to other prescription retinoid products that don’t contain Adapalene. It’s suitable for use as part of your morning or evening skincare routine. The water-based formula is oil-free, alcohol-free, fragrance-free, and non-comedogenic, which helps reduce the risk of scarring and hyperpigmentation by treating acne effectively.
In a clinical study, Differin gel provided up to an 87% reduction in acne breakouts after 12 weeks of use. This improvement continues as you consistently incorporate Differin into your skincare regimen, ensuring that your skin remains clearer and healthier over time.
Mele Skincare Dew the Most Sheer Moisturizer SPF 30 ($10+)
Dr. Davis is a huge fan of Mele Skincare, which was created with black and brown skin in mind. “One of the things I love most about Mele Skincare is that they have developed two sunscreens that blend in flawlessly with any skin tone, which is important for people of color to increase their compliance with applying SPF everyday.” The brand’s multitasking moisturizer provides long-lasting hydration while also protecting against sun damage and preventing the formation of dark spots, she adds.
MELÉ Dew the Most Sheer Moisturizer provides lightweight hydration and protection, blending seamlessly into your skin for 24 hours of moisture and SPF 30 Broad Spectrum protection against UV and blue light. This feature makes it one of the best drugstore skincare products available. Enjoy all-day protection with this sheer face moisturizer that absorbs quickly without leaving any white residue. For optimal results, apply the sunscreen 15 minutes prior to sun exposure and reapply at least every 2 hours.
This SPF moisturizer is free from parabens, alcohol, and mineral oil, and is formulated without phthalates, ensuring that you’re using a safe and gentle product on your skin. MELÉ has co-created this daily skincare routine with dermatologists of color who understand the unique needs of melanin-rich, clear skin.
Designed with your skin in mind, this sheer face moisturizer contains niacinamide and vitamin E, which work together to hydrate and protect against UV damage and signs of aging. With MELÉ Dew the Most Sheer Moisturizer, you can confidently care for and protect your skin every day.
Roc Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Daily Serum ($17+)
Transform your skin with this silky, lightweight serum as part of your daily treatment routine. Powered by a time-released, stabilized form of pure RoC Retinol, this serum stays active on your skin for up to 12 hours, helping to improve radiance and smooth fine lines. Plus, it’s dermatologist-tested for your peace of mind.
Experience Roc Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing age-defying, clinically proven results with this serum. Instantly, your skin will appear plumper and more moisturized. After just one week, your skin will look tighter and firmer, with a noticeable reduction in the appearance of pores. In only four weeks, fine lines and wrinkles will be visibly smoother.
RoC treatments include daily moisturizers with SPF, hyaluronic and niacinamide acids, facial cleansers, vitamin C serums, retinol skin tone, and wrinkle regimens, as well as creams for the under-eye area, neck firming, and décolleté.
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Gel-Cream Face Moisturizer ($19+)
Dr. Gathers says that while this is marketed toward dry skin, all skin types can benefit from the quick-absorbing gel moisturizer. “It is packed with hyaluronic acid, which helps draw moisture into the skin to keep it plump, radiant, and hydrated.”
For $19+ you can get a Neutrogena Hydro Boost Daily Gel-Cream Face Moisturizer that is easily one of the best drugstore skincare products right now. It is enriched with hyaluronic acid to quench even the most extra-dry skin. Its moisturizing gel formula delivers rapid hydration to your skin, leaving it looking smooth and supple by restoring its natural moisture barrier.
Hyaluronic acid, a powerful hydrator found naturally in the skin, attracts moisture and locks it in for long-lasting hydration. This daily face moisturizer features a non-comedogenic formula that is oil-free, dye-free, and fragrance-free, making it suitable for various skin types.
The rich face lotion provides relief from intense dryness by offering long-lasting moisturizing power. This hyaluronic acid moisturizer is the perfect addition to your at-home hydrating self-care routine, ensuring that your skin remains healthy and radiant.
Vanicream Moisturizing Cream ($13+)
“Vanicream is one of my favorite brands for sensitive or eczema-prone skin.” Dr. Gathers says. “This rich moisturizing cream is ideal for soothing dry or irritated skin, and it’s also wonderful for use after bathing.” While it goes on thick, the non-comedogenic cream spreads easily and absorbs without leaving a greasy feel. The formula is also free of dyes, fragrane, lanolin, formaldehydes, and parabens.
Vanicream Moisturizing Cream is specifically designed to hydrate, restore, and maintain a normal moisture level for relief from irritated, cracking, or itchy skin. Carefully formulated with sensitive skin in mind, our cream is free of dyes, fragrance, masking fragrance, lanolin, parabens, and formaldehyde releasers. Plus, this non-comedogenic skin cream won’t clog pores, making it suitable for various skin types.
To use, simply apply the moisturizer as often as needed to your face, hands, feet, and body, or follow the directions provided by your physician. This gentle cream is perfect for the entire family. Dermatologist-tested and awarded the Seal of Acceptance from the National Eczema Association, you can trust in the quality and effectiveness of our product.
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($11+)
All of the derms we spoke to recommend a gentle face wash, and it doesn’t get much gentler than this. The soap-free, non-foaming cleanser uses micellar technology to capture and lift away dirt, oil, and makeup without irritating or stripping the skin of essential moisture. “I use the Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser every day, because it gives me the effective clean I’m looking for without drying out my skin,” says Dr. Tiffany Libby, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. “I also love that you can use it on wet or dry skin — just pump a small amount onto a cotton round and use that to gently wipe away makeup and oil.”
Cetaphil Fragrance-Free Daily Facial Cleanser is specifically designed to reinforce the skin barrier, balance your skin, and minimize the appearance of pores. This fragrance-free formula is ideal for sensitive, combination, and oily skin types, as it is clinically proven to deep clean by removing dirt, excess oils, impurities, and pollution microparticles.
Developed with even the most sensitive skin in mind, this hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic formula is free of parabens and sulfates, ensuring that your skin stays healthy and radiant. Dermatologist-recommended for sensitive skin, you can trust in the quality and effectiveness of our product.
Not only does this cleanser one of the best drugstore skincare products you can buy, it also provide a thorough cleanse that defends against five signs of skin sensitivity: dryness, irritation, roughness, tightness, and a weakened skin barrier.
PanOxyl Antimicrobial Acne Creamy Wash ($9+)
If you’re looking for a face wash for acne-prone skin, look no further. This cleanser comes highly recommended by derms and can be used to treat both face and body blemishes. “It contains 4 percent benzoyl peroxide to kill the bacteria associated with acne,” says Dr. Gather. “It also reduces inflammation on the skin and helps clear dead skin cells that may be clogging your pores.” She also points out that while benzoyl peroxide products can be drying, this is formulated with humectants and emollients for a more gentle cleanse.
Containing 4% benzoyl peroxide, this skincare treatment is designed to tackle acne-prone skin. The use of a daily antimicrobial wash effectively kills acne-causing bacteria on contact and lifts dirt from pores, revealing a fresher, clearer complexion.
The formula is pH-balanced and enriched with four humectants and three emollients, boosting hydration levels for a healthier appearance. Not only does PanOxyl Antimicrobial Acne Creamy Wash cleanse and unclog pores on your face, but it also targets problematic areas on your chest and back.
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In conclusion, achieving radiant and healthy skin doesn’t have to break the bank. With the right selection of dermatologist-recommended best drugstore skincare products, you can create a personalized, affordable routine that delivers exceptional results.